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Tánaiste: US decision to end aid to Palestinian refugee agency is 'shocking'

The US State Department said it was no longer willing to shoulder “the very disproportionate share of the burden”.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT has condemned the decision by the United States government to halt funding for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees. 

The US State Department said the organisation was “irredeemably flawed”. 

Washington has long been the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) largest donor but is “no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Nauert said there would be no additional contributions beyond a $60 million dollar payment made in January, drawing condemnation from both the Palestinians and UNRWA.

Commenting on the news last night, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the decision is “shocking” and will make achieving peace more difficult.

Tweet by @Simon Coveney Source: Simon Coveney/Twitter

The Tánaiste’s criticism of the move came after another announcement from the US last night – President Donald Trump is to visit Ireland in November. 

The visit will be made as part of a visit by Trump to Europe to mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I. The decision to cease funding to UNRWA may now be added to the Tánaiste’s list of concerns to raise with the US President when they meet. 

‘Full confidence’

There have been widespread warnings about the impact of a halt to funding from the US, which contributed $350 million to UNRWA’s budget last year.

“We reject and condemn this American decision in its entirety,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement, calling on all countries “to reject this decision and to provide all possible support” to UNRWA.

UNRWA also slammed the US decision, dismissing Nauert’s characterisation of the agency.

UNRWA “expresses deep regret and disappointment at the US’ announcement that it will no longer provide funding to the Agency after decades of staunch political and financial support,” spokesman Chris Gunness wrote on Twitter.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed,’” he said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that UNRWA has his “full confidence,” calling on “other countries to help fill the remaining financial gap, so that UNRWA can continue to provide this vital assistance.”

The agency supports some five million registered Palestinian refugees and provides schooling for 526,000 children in the Palestinian territories as well as in camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Fears over funding have already led to warnings from UNRWA that it may have to permanently shut all the 711 schools that it runs after recent temporary closures. UNRWA’s director Pierre Krahenbuhl said earlier this week that the agency needs $200 million to continue its work until the end of this year.

- © AFP 2018 with reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

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